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Mayo missed their big chance to see off Dublin

By Peter Canavan

Last Sunday we had 82,300 people in Croke Park for the Dublin and Mayo draw, the biggest crowd at any sporting fixture in Europe certainly, the world, possibly.

There was excitement and hard-hitting. We had physical intensity and controversial decisions.

It would seem, given the uptake in ticket sales for the replay, that we cannot get enough of Gaelic football played this way.

Despite the excitement and competitive nature of the game, we still have those willing to solely focus on the negative aspects. It appears to shock many that cynicism does occur in big games and that controversial decisions take place. But it's been like, forever.

Furthermore, it was amusing to sit back and see how - for some - their tone has mellowed in such a short space of time.

Dublin's aggressive nature was unexpected. They looked as if they were going to bully everyone in sight, including referee Joe McQuillan. It was the first time I had seen Jim Gavin's side concentrate so much on the opposition. It led to several moments of indiscipline which, given the footballers they have, did not suit them.

As for Mayo, they paid for their ultra-conservatism, not least when it came to pushing up on Stephen Cluxton's kickouts, retaining two men in the midfield/half-back positions at all times.

This made it easy for Cluxton to clip it short to a corner-back. On a couple of occasions, he went so short that the ball remained inside the 13-metre line.

When you have numbers over and there is movement, it is easier to transition from defence to attack. Dublin were able to do this time and time again.

If Mayo had have put a full squeeze on, then there's no doubt Cluxton might have had to take his chances by putting his kickouts long. And, in this case, Mayo would have cashed in on their physical superiority in midfield.

Previous manager James Horan had been widely criticised for not being more conservative, instead pushing up and forcing the issue against the likes of Dublin and Kerry, really going at them.

When they were forced to throw off the shackles in the second half here, reverting back to their familiar patterns, that's when they damaged Dublin and demonstrated their incredible conditioning.

It was then that we saw more of the free running from Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle and Lee Keegan, playing the way they can. The scenario facing Mayo is how far they will go in terms of their attacking strategy. Can they afford to play three men up, or try to smother Dublin in the middle sector?

I think the answer lies somewhere between.

You have the option of playing Aidan O'Shea in full-forward, and Dublin will definitely retain a sweeper. There should be more space for Mayo to exploit this further out the field.

I am not so sure Mayo got as much out of their own sweeper - Championship debutant David Drake - as they might have. At times Colm Boyle was having to leave Paul Flynn and sprint back in. There were various occasions when the Dublin diagonal ball was kicked in and it left a three-on-three situation inside.

A sweeper system is not something you can just wait until the Championship to implement. Dublin and a number of other teams have been working on this diligently for over a year. Mayo haven't it well-rehearsed and it turned out to be a gamble that they almost paid the ultimate price.

Another big factor was the referee and, as referenced elsewhere, it was the type of game that umpires and linesmen needed to be on their toes.

I'd argue strongly for the introduction of a Television Match Official for major calls. Replays would be reviewed by two other referees wired up to the ref on the pitch to help him make the call on contentious incidents.

We are lucky in our position as matchday pundits with Sky as we get to see every incident over and over.

But in one of the greatest stadiums in the world, I find it bizarre and highly patronising whenever an incident occurs, that they don't screen repeats on the big screens, choosing instead to flash up corporate advertising.

What do they think the supporters will do? Jump up out of their seats and tear over the wire to attack each other because they see something they don't like?

Verdict time.

Mayo's heart and desire, some would call it a crusade, is formidable.

But what lets them down, and has in the past, is that when the game was there to be won, they lacked a clinical edge up front. Too many balls were kicked into the goalkeeper's hands or else wide.

I note James Horan had suggested we were going to witness the two fittest teams in terms of strength and conditioning that had ever played the game.

I remember thinking that it might have been a slight exaggeration, but after witnessing the two teams going at it flat out, with great pace and intensity, I would have to agree with him.

There will be more football played in this one and both teams will be very much aware of the hype surrounding the game last week.

They say that teams who learn the most from drawn games win the replay. Both teams will have learnt plenty, I am sure, but it's not what they learned, it's what they can fix in the intervening period that will make the difference.

With this in mind, Dublin can certainly resolve their indiscipline. I am not convinced Mayo can solve their lack of ruthlessness in front of goal.

Mayo had the same number of possessions as Dublin (51 each), but had more shots on goal (30 to 24), yet Dublin got more return.

That's not going to change.

Dublin win.

Belfast Telegraph


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